IEEE 2022 Infrastructure, Innovation and Technology Impact Theme


Por Raul Colcher

Amigos, a seguir compartilho minhas respostas às questões formuladas pelo IEEE a seu grupo mundial de Impact Creators. Este ano, a consulta diz respeito à evolução esperada para tecnologias aplicadas à infraestrutura nos próximos anos. O IEEE é a maior organização profissional dedicada ao progresso da tecnologia. Seu grupo de Impact Creators “inspira uma comunidade global a inovar para um futuro melhor. Os Impact Creators compartilham perspectivas sobre engenharia, computação e tecnologia”.

Friends, below I share my answers to the questions posed by IEEE to its worldwide group of Impact Creators. This year, the consultation concerns the expected evolution of technologies applied to infrastructure in the coming years. The IEEE is the largest professional organization dedicated to the advancement of technology. Its group of Impact Creators “inspires a global community to innovate for a better future. Impact Creators share insights on engineering, computing and technology.”


IEEE 2022 Infrastructure, Innovation and Technology Impact Theme



We appreciate your expert insights for the 2022 IEEE Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure Impact Theme campaign, “Infrastructure in Motion,” which may be included on IEEE Transmitter, shared on social media and with journalists to inform their press coverage.

Technology is helping move infrastructure forward –– literally and figuratively.  

In transportation, technologies are powering autonomous vehicles, EVs and charging stations, drones, electric rail and shipping automation, and the movement of data enables the functionality, secures and strengthens infrastructure. Think IoT and smart buildings, edge computing, 5G, blockchain and supply chain — are all critical to advancing and positively moving our world into the future.

 GLOBAL INFRASTRUCTURE — How are technologies like AI, AR/VR, blockchain, IoT and robotics changing how infrastructure is planned, created or used?  Feel free to address individual technologies and their applications.

RC: Information and communication technologies are revolutionizing infrastructure faster and more deeply. For example, in power generation and distribution, IoT and artificial intelligence can lead to optimizing the use of resources, better quality services at a lower price for consumers, and cleaner energy production. In cities, these technologies have accelerated the mobility revolution, through vehicle interconnection processes (with each other, passengers, and transport routes), incorporation of intelligence in signaling processes and management of urban transport systems. In communications, the digital transformation, instrumented by these technologies, has brought huge gains in quality and economy to networks and services, and the demand for services is also exponentially increasing, through their appropriation in end-user systems (IoT being the most important recent example). In logistical systems, they had a great impact on improving the quality of management, diversifying transport modes (for example drones and autonomous cars in urban parcel delivery), decreasing the time involved in the transport and distribution cycles of products and decreasing costs for producers, distributors, and final consumers.

GLOBAL INFRASTRUCTURE — In your region, what are the biggest infrastructure challenges? How can technology help overcome these challenges?

RC: My work as a consultant has made me travel extensively and I have learned that the most important infrastructure challenges are variable across geography, due to economic, political, social and even climatic conditions and circumstances. For example, in Brazil, a continental country with strong regional development asymmetries, there are serious deficiencies and immaturities in political and regulatory processes, which make it difficult to rationally address some of the more complex infrastructure issues, such as the disorderly growth of cities and the lack of investments in transport resources. Recently, a set of privatization and infrastructure improvement initiatives have been carried out, and the correct use of information and communication technology resources will be very important, to ensure adequate prioritization and efficiency in the allocation and control of the application of limited resources. The 5G program, whose frequencies were recently tendered by the federal government, also represents a move in that direction.

On the other side of the world, Israel, a small country in the Middle East, has achieved technological power status and has one of the most dynamic and successful innovation ecosystems in the world. Recently, I had the opportunity to participate, in Tel-Aviv, in an international conference on technologies for mobility, in which industrial, academic and hundreds of startups initiatives proliferated, in diverse themes, such as autonomous vehicles, applied artificial intelligence, logistics, drones, urban signage, security and much more. This does not prevent complex challenges. Israeli society, irrigated by economic progress, with low levels of unemployment, dumps cars on the roads at increasing rates, and success in managing the pandemic has brought employees back to offices, causing monstrous traffic jams that make people’s lives miserable. Thus, new technologies have, among others, the missions of optimizing and making public transport services attractive and of providing intelligent signaling and accurate information, in real time, to vehicle drivers (human or otherwise), in order to alleviate malfunctions and traffic jams.

GLOBAL INFRASTRUCTURE — How are global forces such as urbanization, COVID-19 and climate change impacting infrastructure? Which technologies can help mitigate these issues and how?

RC: The development and future investments in infrastructure will, among other factors, be strongly conditioned by the dynamics of urbanization processes, the fight against pandemics (current and future) and the confrontation of climate challenges. Accelerated urbanization only became possible and inevitable because technology and innovation allowed for increased productivity in the countryside, reduced the need for labor while enabling increasing volumes of food production, and triggered the massive migration of agricultural populations to cities. As usual with the big disruptive scientific-technological waves, the accelerated and disordered urbanization created enormous problems, which science itself and the information and communication technologies are now called upon to solve or alleviate. In the case of COVID-19, there were abrupt changes of state in key variables of human development and behavior, such as labor relations, interpersonal communication, processes and markets for leisure, tourism and entertainment, and, of course, systems of prevention and health treatment. Here, technology is creating opportunities for products and services for management, prevention, prediction and early detection of risk situations for contagion and spread, accelerated development of vaccines and drugs in general. Finally, in the case of the big issue of climate change, emerging science and technologies tend to become dominant in the development of solutions, involving the growing use of clean energy, fuels from renewable sources, electrification of the vehicle fleet, increased efficiency traffic and logistics systems, increasing use of sensors and actuators in systems for preventing, detecting and correcting adverse weather conditions. In all these cases and in many others, the global challenge is the development and massive diffusion of highly efficient and reasonably priced infrastructures that allow solving or mitigating specific challenges, while systematically collecting and processing data, through algorithms that will allow the progressive improvement of solutions and the early treatment of exceptional conditions.

EVs and INFRASTRUCTURE — For the era of electric vehicles, what infrastructure upgrades/changes need to take place? How will the technology powering this infrastructure work and what are the benefits to society?

RC: The development and progressive diffusion of electric vehicles holds the promise of more efficient transport systems and less air pollution in cities and roads. For this to occur massively, the relative cost of vehicles needs to decrease, batteries need to become more efficient and their charge times lower. New materials and construction processes will be at the base of this evolution. However, it should be noted that for there to be a net global reduction in pollution with electrification, it is necessary that the processes of generation, transmission and distribution of electricity are, in turn, clean, without which there would be merely a geographic transposition of the pollutants. In countries like Brazil, where the energy matrix is primarily based on hydroelectric generation, this may be a reasonably treatable problem, but in others it can be extremely complex and demand, in turn, new product and process technologies to radically change the energy production infrastructure.

DRONES — What are current uses of drone technologies and what could improve how they are being used? What infrastructure needs to be in place for aerial drone delivery to be ubiquitous?

RC: The technology of unmanned aerial vehicles has progressed enormously in recent years, and this has allowed drones to cease being toys and quickly become essential and disruptive instruments in various application areas, as they become more controllable, flexible, safe, and capable of withstand increasing weights of loads. For example, they have become a tool of choice in logistics systems for delivering packages to consumers. Equipped with photographic and video equipment, they have been used to recognize patterns, identify people via facial recognition, supervise and warn of exception conditions in urban security systems, monitor industrial installations and pipeline networks. Equipped with different types of sensors, they make it possible to systematically collect data in IoT applications and feed algorithms into artificial intelligence solutions. Equipped with sophisticated weapons, supervision, and remote management devices, they have become an important element in military systems. More recently, its use as an autonomous vehicle for personal transport over short distances has been experimented, which could cause a real revolution in urban mobility systems.

Naturally, like many of the emerging technological tools, the more widespread use of drones in high-potential civil applications still depends on some improvements and developments, not only technological, but also in terms of security and privacy, regulatory and ethical aspects in general, in view of the threats they may pose, for example when used by terrorists or for social control by non-democratic governments.

SUPPLY CHAIN — How can technology help mitigate infrastructure issues tied to supply chain problems? Please specify the technologies, how they may work and specific supply chain issues they could address.

RC: Some examples of emerging technical solutions to logistical problems were addressed in previous answers (improvement of mobility conditions, drones, IoT and artificial intelligence applications, etc.). Overall, from pioneering EDI systems, inventory management, real-time electronic data collection and ECR, the current wave of digitization of supply chain platforms, which incorporates IoT solutions, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and blockchain, have brought to global supply networks greater efficiency, reliability and resiliency with lower costs and risks.

CONSUMER BENEFITS — How will technology-enhanced infrastructure create new or improved consumer experiences? Today and in the next five years?

RC: Emerging technologies applicable to infrastructure improvement have the potential to positively impact the consumer experience basically through gains in quality, flexibility and efficiency transmitted to current products and services that use it, and also through the introduction of new products and services, previously technically or economically unfeasible. As an example of the first case, I would cite the aforementioned evolution of logistic systems, based on cloud computing, IoT, artificial intelligence and blockchain, which has substantially improved the product acquisition experience, with shorter procurement cycles and lower costs. As for the second case, the examples are many, in practically any sector. I would cite, as an illustration, two of them that have the potential to intensify their impact in the coming years:

i) the progressive development, implementation and dissemination of intelligent energy distribution networks (smart grid), which, in addition to improving and making contracting by customers more flexible, also allow for cogeneration by them, returning unused surplus generated to the grid, with benefits for all related parties

ii) The massive dissemination of 5th generation mobile networks with their functionalities and improvements (in speed, latency, etc.), which will enable new applications of advanced technology (such as the management of autonomous vehicles, remote surgeries, more powerful aerospace and defense solutions, etc.)

INFRASTRUCTURE AND SPORTING EVENTS — The world’s largest stadiums hold hundreds of thousands of spectators, more than some cities. How is technology used in stadiums, particularly AI, AR/VR, blockchain, IoT and robotics?

RC: Sports stadiums, as well as other facilities designed to receive large audiences and large events, have been subject to major overhauls in their projects, as well as in the infrastructure used for their operation, starting to incorporate emerging technologies such as those mentioned, to improve the quality of experience and increase the safety of spectators. Recently, their use and management have suffered, all over the world, and intensely, from the impact of COVID-19, in the form of restrictions and limitations on the holding of events with large audiences. With the recent development of specialized sensors capable of detecting and alerting risks related to the presence of viruses and other infectious agents in the environment, it is foreseeable that specialized IoT networks and systems with artificial intelligence algorithms will be implemented as part of the stadium infrastructure.

INFRASTRUCTURE AND SPORTING EVENTS — The high concentration of people at major sporting events presents special communications challenges. How do large stadiums manage the amount of data fans are generating?

RC: As part of the initiatives and investments aimed at satisfying spectators with their experience in major events, the stadiums strive to develop new and better communication, information and interaction mechanisms. This includes support services and security management, from guidance to access the venue, entrance and exit from the facility, seat identification, information and statistics on tournaments and athletes, visualization of important moves in high resolution, communication and interaction with the fans, purchase of products, food, etc. For all this to be possible with a high concentration of people, new telecommunications resources, in public and proprietary networks, must be made available. In the coming years, it is foreseeable that the experience will be enriched with the availability of virtual and augmented reality mechanisms, capable, for example, of bringing spectators into the playing field in an ultra-realistic way. Naturally, this poses new challenges regarding the massive availability of broadband access in confined environments.

INFRASTRUCTURE IN SPACE — Humans have only been exploring space for a single generation. But now we optimize it for technologies like GPS, communications satellites, weather data.  Is the pace of technological change surprising to you? In what ways? Why not?

RC: The explosive pace of the introduction of new technological solutions in people’s daily lives makes us a little numb and insensitive to the true miracles that happen daily in our sight. In the specific case of space infrastructure, we started to use real-time geolocation for our movements in cities and on roads, as if it had never been different. We read news about communications satellite constellations and commercial space travel as if nothing surprising was happening. Personally, I am somewhat bothered by the lack of information to the public about the serious and complex economic, social, ethical, political, and regulatory challenges posed by these new technologies. The history of science and technology teaches us that with each generation of new technologies, born to solve specific problems, new problems are created, which the next generation will seek to address, and so on. But for this to happen, societies need to be aware of the risks and difficulties that inevitably accompany the scientific-technological revolution.

INFRASTRUCTURE IN SPACE — How imminent are space-based solar arrays for electricity generation on earth? What needs to happen to make this possible?

RC: Although these ideas have been aired for more than half a century, as far as I am informed, there is no forecast for an immediate launch of space platforms for solar electricity generation, although there are R&D programs underway, mainly in China, Japan, Russia, India, United Kingdom and United States. In theory, it would be possible to create such a system at geosynchronous orbit or perhaps at a suitable Lagrangian point that would be capable of beaming clean energy to Earth. This energy would be sent down using a suitable radio frequency or laser transmissions that could then be converted to electrical power using diodes placed within dipole antenna receivers. The Chinese program, probably the most advanced, plans to launch some small-scale experimental facilities in the next few years, but with a commercial energy production horizon no earlier than 2030. Some difficulties are related to the limitations of launch resources currently available, the cost of implementation, the inefficiency of current mechanisms for wireless power transmission over long distances, and the current resource limitations of the ground segments and distribution networks.

INFRASTRUCTURE IN SPACE — What types of infrastructure might be needed to further commercialize space? To encourage more space exploration (non-terrestrial services)?

RC: Apparently, the first steps of private commercial exploration of space have already been taken and its intensification is imminent. Last year, for the first time, human beings went into space in a vehicle not designed or built by governments, and there is evidence of intensifying private competition for industry leadership. So far, most of the revenues from commercial space exploration relate to goods and services produced in space for use on Earth (satellite telecommunications, internet infrastructure, geo-referencing services, satellite launch services, military systems, etc.), but there are signs that there will be, in a few years, the explosion of a new space economy, based on products and services produced and consumed outside the Earth (space tourism, mining on the moon, new materials, establishment of human settlements, support services, consumables designed to operate in a zero gravity environment, etc.). For this to happen, it will probably be necessary to create a new institutional and regulatory framework, which will enable and encourage the necessary investments, given the risks to be faced, especially in the initial phase. A consensual international legal framework will probably have to be negotiated, deepening the first steps already taken, through the Artemis accords, celebrated between nine countries, which established general principles for the exploration of the Moon, Mars and asteroids (but which, significantly, were not signed by Russia or China).

DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION OF CURRENT INFRASTRUCTURE (IoT, sensors, AI, 5G integration into roads, bridges, dams, bridges, ports) — How are digital technologies changing the way people use traditional infrastructure and what can these technologies help advance?

RC: The previous answers exemplify cases of appropriation of emerging digital technologies to change the way we use different types of infrastructure, but I will use this question to mention a few others: intelligent roads, capable of interacting with connected vehicles and their drivers (human or not) should become the rule in a few years. The current electronic toll systems, signaling, security, emergency response, weather information, traffic conditions and points of interest, and much of what we now group under the generic name of “intelligent transportation systems” will be greatly enhanced, making it become more flexible and ergonomic. In the case of dams, the dramatic accidents with human losses that occurred with some of them in the recent past will probably lead to reengineering their construction and operational processes, starting to incorporate technologies to prevent and warn of future occurrences. For example, sensors coupled to IoT networks and systems, and artificial intelligence algorithms to continuously monitor waste accumulation and warn of landslide hazards. In the case of seaports, the technology is already rapidly penetrating and changing a variety of systems, such as navigability monitoring, service logistics and unloading of cargo and people, testing of crew, passengers, and cargo with regard to infectious agents, interaction with customs and government systems in general.

DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION OF CURRENT INFRASTRUCTURE (Iot, sensors, AI, 5G integration into roads, bridges, dams, bridges, ports) — What societal needs are driving the push for digital transformation of infrastructure? Safety? Sustainability? Efficiency?  Please elaborate in your answer. 

RC: In general, digital transformation responds to all these needs, the relative importance between them depending on the particular application and possibly changing, in time and with geography, as a function of technological, economic, socio-political and regulatory parameters. For example, in the case of healthcare systems, the automation process has traditionally been driven by an efficiency agenda, in response to the explosion in the costs of procedures, drugs, etc. With the emergence of the COVID-19 crisis, the emphasis shifted to also incorporating safety aspects and the need to shorten deadlines for obtaining effective and safe vaccines and medicines. In the already mentioned case of dams at mining sites, digitization has traditionally resulted from motivations of efficiency in the extraction processes and in the logistics chain, but in recent years greater emphasis has been placed in the adoption of processes for monitoring and preventing serious accidents resulting from progressive accumulation of waste and associated landslide risks.

DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION OF CURRENT INFRASTRUCTURE (Iot, sensors, AI, 5G integration into roads, bridges, dams, bridges, ports) — How can technologies make traditional infrastructure more sustainable?

RC: New digital technologies can contribute to the sustainability of traditional infrastructures throughout their entire life cycle, from their projects, constructions, through the operation and maintenance processes and reaching their moments of retirement and recycling or renewal for extension of their period of use. In all these phases, sustainability can be improved through cleaner processes and solutions, new materials and energy from renewable sources and obtained with less harm to the environment. New technologies also promote greater sustainability through their appropriation of educational and communication tools and solutions, to promote more sustainable usage habits by their end users.

DATA AND INFRASTRUCTURE — What role does the movement of data play in advancing infrastructure? What types of data are being utilized — how and where? What are the challenges when it comes to data and infrastructure?  We realize this may apply to many different area of infrastructure — feel free to address specific use cases in your answer.

RC: The processing and exchange of data plays a fundamental role in the development, implementation and operation of infrastructure and its role has progressively gained even greater importance recently. With the progress of software engineering and the incorporation of large data structures from sensors that continuously collect information, it became possible to improve the operation and performance of large distributed systems in real time, but also to use algorithms to promote analysis and profile identifications to optimize their performance and use, based on experience gained progressively over time. In dynamic and complex macrosystems, such as those that make up what is conventionally called “smart cities”, the perception is growing that data-centric approaches represent the best strategy to ensure not only good implementation results, but also better conditions for continuous adaptation to requirements that will inevitably vary over time.


 RC: Just a few words about an aspect that was not explicitly addressed in the questions but is of fundamental importance: the issue of security and privacy in infrastructure development, operation, and use. Digital solutions applied in this field are potentially vulnerable to attacks, with consequences that can range from unpleasant to disastrous, threatening assets and even human health and life. The challenge is huge, because such systems have become potential targets for criminal organizations, whose technical sophistication has been increasing, and even military and intelligence organizations, in the context of the so-called cyber warfare. On the other hand, as we have seen, many of these solutions involve the collection, transmission, and continuous processing of information of different types, including personal ones, which, once obtained by malicious individuals or organizations, can cause great harm and suffering to those affected. There are great efforts and investments being applied in technologies, processes, and regulations to reduce or circumvent these threats, but the current situation is still very worrying.

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